Divine freedom and creation ex nihilo

Let freedom mean the non-determination of a decision. This means two things which are opposed as imperfection to perfection. A decision before it is made is pretty clearly both undetermined and imperfect relative to the same decision made; but a decision that depends on someone or something else to be made is less perfect than one made independently on one’s own, and independence is another way of not being determined. The first sort of freedom – call it (A) – is “not determined” decision since it is the privation of a fully made decision; the second (B) is a “not determined” decision it does not depend on anything outside the one deciding.

God’s freedom in creating ex nihilo is necessarily (B), as the whole point of describing the act as ex nihilo is to deny his dependence on both matter and the goodness of the created end.

Creation ex nihilo, however, cannot be from freedom in sense (A.) Just as creation as an effect does not consist in an actuality arising from a privation in a created subject but from no subject at all, creation as an active cause does not consist in an actuality arising from a privation in the subject who creates. One can, of course, distinguish possible worlds with and without creation or with and without God creating, but when understood in light of creation ex nihilo we recognize that these logical distinctions do not correspond to any transition from the privation of an act to its possession, or from God before he acts and to when he is acting. We visualize divine freedom in creating as God going from potency to act in exactly the same way we imagine creation ex nihilo as going from a vast, empty black space to a space filled with planets and stars. Both are metaphors that only work up to a point, and in the present discussion one is well past the point where they work.

Do we say that God necessarily creates since his act has no potential, and any act with no potential must be necessary? No. Here again, there is no potential in the divine act creating in the same way there is no potential for creation, since creation is ex nihilo and not from potency, since potency is a kind of being.

So there is a true and proper non-determination of the divine decision to create in sense (B,) but no non-determination in sense (A.) Both of these, moreover, follow from the same fact of creation being ex nihilo. 

Note on Pure Act

Calling God pure act means he causes motion without being in motion, or effects change without himself changing. The reason we conclude pure act is God is precisely because he acts on ens mobile from outside that order of being, and so is super-natural. His action creates no equal and opposite reaction, and falls under no physical laws.

Hypothesis on Temperance

Suppose you want to indulge some immoderate pleasure. The urge for it is the same one Augustine described: do you think you could live without it forever? This is an odd argument: I’m supposed to indulge something now so that I’ll have it in the future? 

No, no, no, the appetite shoots back – you want to act in accord with a principle that will make you lose everything in the future! This is also odd – no one can enjoy anything qua future. You might just as well point out that I should despair that all I ever get to enjoy is what I enjoy now, and not what I will be able to.

The irrationality of all this makes it hard to spot, but sooner or later some researcher will get around to noticing how we talk ourselves into enjoying things now because we don’t want to lose them in the future. The Romans 13 passage Augustine famously reads in the tolle, lege story speaks to this, as it demands that we make no provision (πρόνοια) for carnality, i.e. simply stop looking to it in the future.

Sola voluntate

Thomas believes that we can account for why in general some are saved and others are not, but why in particular this man is saved but not that one he says arises from God sola voluntate, analogously to a bricklayer grabbing one brick and not another. The sola is an excluder, and both the argument and example make it clear that it excludes a ratio for the choice. So are we to imagine God as sheerly indifferent to individuals? Grabbing one as just as good as another?

In support of his argument, Thomas quotes Augustine in his commentary on John 6:

[N]o man can come unto me, except the Father that sent me draw him There is whom He draws, and there is whom He draws not; why He draws one and draws not another, seek not to judge, if you seek not to err.

Seek not to judge, if you seek not to err. But how does this square with Thomas’s judgment that the action occurs sola voluntate? This is a judgment, yes?

The only way to take this as a support for Thomas argument and not a contradiction of it is if Thomas is taking the sola of sola voluntate not as excluding a ratio on the side of God himself, but only on the side of our ability to give a reason. We form rationes only by abstracting from particulars, and so there is a contradiction in our giving a ratio or a particular as such.

Choice, freedom, and determination

1.) If God knows the future, the future is determinate.

2.) If the future is determinate, our choice is now determined. 

Since Boethius, (1) has been taken as a claim about the divine knowledge as opposed to reality, or from facts arising ex parte the knower and not ex parte the known. This difference is particularly striking in sense knowledge: if I leap into the arctic ocean in December, it’s freezing, but polar bears enjoy it, so the “freezing” is clearly arising ex parte the knower, even if from an objective foundation. Likewise, the determination of the future in (1) and (2) arises not from facts about how the future exists but from facts about how God knows things in time.

But just what is this “fact about how God knows things in time?” Thomas seems to take it as God’s seeing all times in an eternal present, and so all things he sees is seen with the necessitas ex suppositione, or in what the later tradition called the composed sense. Anything taken as happening now is necessarily what it is, since this says no more than that it is impossible for something to now be ~X if it’s now given as X.

But this eternal present cannot be understood as seeing all things as they are to the exclusion of seeing them as they were or will be. If I call some moment 11-12, the divine mind sees all its relative designations: how it is present to myself, past or future to others, etc. I might value the moment as anticipated, be indifferent to it as present, remember it in my past, etc and all of these are thing the divine mind sees about 11-12 in his eternal present. All of these facts are, more importantly, caught up in the great universal updraft that draws all things to the perfect manifestation of God’s glory, which even God himself has no choice but to advance. And when I say no choice the claim is about reality: all free choice is preceded and structured by what one has no choice but to will, and the first foundation of a free choice is simply that its object is outside of what is already given as willed necessarily and by nature, and relative to this already given truth all choices really are determined, for God as much a human beings.

Gen 2:18-25

(The principle of Biblical sexual ethics.)

1.) God notices it is not good for the male to be alone. He decides to make an ezer for him. This is a rare case of scripture referring to someone other than God as ezer.

2.) The creation of the ezer begins with a parade of animals, which man recognizes as non-ezer. Applied to sexual ethics, it seems that we must initially encounter God’s revelation as negative and prohibitory.

3.) At the end of this vast via negativa, God casts a sleep on the man. In the LXX version that Christ will quote, this sleep is ἔκστασις, or ecstasy. The Fathers seem unanimous that Adam has mystical experience. After going through the totality of a via negativa, or even purgative way, man is elevated by illumination to understand what he could grasp only negatively before.

4.) This illumination is ordered to the experience of the one woman as ezer, who as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh is an image and likeness of him and so mediately an image of God, but who as ezer is immediately the image of God.

Hypostatic union

Nature: What corresponds to the list of all those things and only those things necessary for a thing to be a complete sort of thing.

Subject: That which has a nature but is not itself a nature. The “underneathness” of the subjects (the sub of subject or hypo of hypostasis) is relative to the nature. By way of comparison, though accidents are also outside of the nature, they are not characterized by underneathness but by outsideness.

If so, Christ must be two natures and one hypostasis. Were he more than one nature, then he would, by definition, be neither God nor man; if God and man were two hypostases in him then God and man for Christ would be no different than God and man for myself. God and man for me is self-evidently also two different natures and two different hypostases.

Death as return to principle

If our accounts of death are limited to the Christian account of death as encounter with the God and the physicalist account of death as non-existence, both take death as a return to the principle of the self – either a soul arising from a divine act of creation and returning to it or from a constellation of causes that were as indifferent to the self’s arising as they’ll be to its scattering in death. One way or another, we meet our maker.

Perhaps this was unavoidable due to death inescapably requiring an account of what the person is. What, after all, does does fundamentally bring to an end? My only interest here is how it seems axiomatic that it involves some sort of return to the principle of one’s being, and, given that this is encountered precisely in death, requires that the person himself is not that source.

Substance dualism

Taken literally, substance dualism is a man riding a horse or hunting with dogs; or perhaps an action rising to the level of naturally occurring symbiosis or parasitism. Lo, two substances interacting and giving rise to a common activity!

This could never be more than a metaphor for the union of soul and body. The when a man uses a dog to hunt he is using a physical thing, of course, and souls in some sense use bodies to do things, but living things make use of the physical by being one substance with it. This is clearest in the opposition between living things and machines: living things convert energy sources into parts of themselves, and so have the equivalent of an engineer within themselves; machines not only are engineered from without but have interfaces and on-off switches manifesting their order to a controlling substance. While both the living thing and the machine are physical, the machine has extrinsic substances engineering and using it while the living thing has these as intrinsically constitutive of its one substance, e.g. the living dog, plant, insect, etc. Since the living thing is equally as physical as the machine, moreover, we have to distinguish physicality as a complete substance and only potentially alive from the higher-order living substance that actualizes what is only potential at a lower order.

One can, of course, consider only what living things and machines have in common – and one could probably tell the whole story of biology in the last 70 years as the story of those who were interested in looking at it in that way. If all you want to know about is how, for example, living things use energy sources to accomplish tasks you don’t need to care about how they are essentially different from machines, and there are enough interesting things to discover here to sustain a very broad and long-lasting research program. When one tries to talk about “soul” or “life” from the standpoint of this research program, however, it will either be a completely superfluous term (since one is assuming life just is a function common with machines) or an alien substance dualistically interacting with a complete substance as opposed to actualizing potencies-for-substance in a lower order.

God, pure actuality, transcends the distinction between the absolute (for which real distinction is a limitation) and the relative (for which real distinction is a perfection.)

We can understand God as subsistent being, and we can understand being as divided into absolute and relative, but we cannot understand God or being as the simultaneous existence of the absolute and relative, since this is a contradiction and contradictions can neither be understood nor be. This is just as true of abstract wholes as of transcendent wholes, e.g. “animal” is an abstraction from cats, dogs, fish, etc. or even as an abstraction from cats and non-cats, but we can’t understand “animal” as though it were the subsistent unity of cat and non-cat at the same time and same respect, since this is contradictory.

If God simply showed us the transcendent unity of absolute and relative, we would see how relatives exist so as not to exclude absolutes and vice versa. At the moment we only see that this is true so far as both are actualities, but we can’t conceive both actualities formally in being.

Perfections possessed as contradictory in creatures are possessed without contradiction in God. In using creatures to understand God, we unavoidably run encounter times when there will be a contradiction in our thought that must be judged not to exist in God, but all this means is that if we try to understand an unlimited perfection as a series of limited ones we fail to understand it.

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